Bullying can be worse than sexual harassment


Victims of workplace aggression report more stress, less satisfaction with their jobs.

When it comes to workplace issues, society has turned a bright light on the dark act of sexual harassment. But it may be bullying in the workplace that now inflicts more harm on employees. That's the news from a review of 110 studies over the past 21 years on the consequences of sexual harassment and workplace aggression.

"As sexual harassment becomes less acceptable in society, organizations may be more attuned to helping victims, who may therefore find it easier to cope," says lead author M. Sandy Hershcovis of the University of Manitoba. "In contrast, nonviolent forms of workplace aggression such as incivility and bullying are not illegal, leaving victims to fend for themselves."

Hershcovis and co-author Julian Barling of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, broke down workplace aggression into three categories:

1. Incivility: Discourteous verbal and nonverbal behaviors, and rudeness.

2. Bullying: Persistently criticizing employees' work, yelling, repeatedly reminding employees of mistakes, spreading gossip or lies, ignoring or excluding workers, and insulting employees' habits, attitudes, or private lives.

3. Interpersonal conflict: Hostility, verbal aggression, and angry exchanges.

Researchers found that workplace aggression had more severe negative consequences for the workplace and employees than sexual harassment. Employees experiencing incivility, bullying, or interpersonal conflict were more likely to quit their jobs, have lower self-esteem, be less satisfied with their jobs, and have less satisfying relations with their bosses than employees who were sexually harassed. In addition, those who were bullied reported more job stress, less commitment to their job, and higher levels of anger and anxiety.

Hershcovis says the angst these employees feel may be a result of frustration--what can they do? "How does an employee report to their boss that they have been excluded from lunch?" he asks. "Or that they're being ignored by a co-worker? The insidious nature of these behaviors makes them difficult to deal with and sanction."

For more on how your team members can handle bullying, see Related Links below.

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